The State Of The Kugel: 2012

This summer at the Democratic National Convention, Jerry Nadler buttonholed me and started a conversation which he began by saying “On December 31, 2010, you wrote…

The article I wrote was called “Wake Up And Smell The Kugel.” Largely ignored at the time, or minimized by those who paid it any attention, it was a desperately dismal portrait of the State of things Democratic among Orthodox and Russian Jews in southern Brooklyn.

Then came Turner/Weprin and Storobin/Fidler and suddenly I was being hailed s a prophet and a sage. The head of the Brooklyn Tea Party invited me to lunch and bought me a piece of kugel.

Here are some of the key observations made at the time:  

New York City has 65 Assembly Districts. In the entire City, Paladino carried two; Staten Island’s ultra-conservative 62nd and Brooklyn’s heavily Orthodox 48th, the home base of the infamous Dov Hikind, who, as per usual, failed to deliver for his endorsed candidate, in this case, Andrew Cuomo.

Paladino carried the 48th 8,009 (50.04%) to 7,553 (47.88%).

Surprisingly, the most striking thing about Paladino’s numbers in the 48th is how low they were. In the context of all the other Republican totals in Brooklyn’s two most Orthodox dominated Assembly Districts (the other being the 45th), Paladino’s showing was a poor one…

…Let’s put things in perspective. In the same area where Paladino was winning 50.04%, Joe DioGuardi was taking 58.93%, Harry Wilson 61.54% and Dan Donovan 64.73%.

The Republican/Conservative candidate for Civil Court, who did not campaign or spend any money got 65.92%. Paladino, who did campaign in Borough Park and spent lots of money there, trailed him by over 15 points. In the 45th, which was also carried by DioGuardi, Wilson, Donovan and the Republican Civil Court candidate (who outpaced Paladino by 16 points), Cuomo joined Chuck Schumer as the only winning statewide Democrat…

… Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose district includes a high Jewish population, an increasing percentage of which are Orthodox in 2010 got 59% of the vote; the last time Weiner had a Republican opponent, in the not particularly Democratic year of 2004 (when John Kerry got only 56% in his district), Weiner got 71%. In Brooklyn’s overwhelmingly Jewish and increasingly Orthodox or Russian 45th Assembly District, incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz, was held to 57% by Joseph Hayon, a Sephardic Jew active in the Brooklyn Tea Party, who spent $615 on his campaign…

…So what did this mean in New York?

It meant that, to a large extent, Orthodox Jew repudiated the Democratic Party lock, stock and pickle barrel.

As noted, the 48th AD backed Paladino, DioGuardi, Wilson, Donovan and the Republican candidate for Civil Court. Chuck Schumer took his Senate race by a not too impressive 53.36% to 45.89%. I would also cite Assemblyman Dov Hikind relative unimpressive (for him) victory with 65.20%, except that his opponent seems to have been strongest in the White Christian Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights portions of the district.

As noted, the 45th AD backed DioGuardi, Wilson, Donovan and the Republican candidate for Civil Court. Cuomo did break 55% here, but while the 48th is overwhelming ultra-Orthodox, the 45th also includes various more modern groups, as well as Syrians and other Sephardim, and less religious, but often politically similar Russian Jews, all of whom were even more likely to be put off by the Paladino/Levin circus. Still, this area, which Chuck Schumer once represented in the Assembly, managed to yield its former homeboy a hardly resounding 57.60% victory in his re-election.

More importantly, Joe Hayon’s 42.16% to incumbent Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz’s 57.80% might be called the $615 wake up call. One can bet that next time, there will be a Republican willing to increase that cash by more than 100-fold in a year when the Democrat will be running on a ticket with a President slightly less popular here than pork bellies.

Some of the results for State Senate and Congress are even more striking.

Eric Adams and Kevin Parker faced only token opposition, yet in his somewhat Orthodox portion of the 48th Adams lost 52.74% to 47.26%. In Parker’s predominately Orthodox portion of the 48th he took 38.17% to the Republican’s 55.61% and the Conservative’s 6.17%. In his virtually all-Orthodox portion of the 49th, Parker took 23.74% to the Republican’s 70.78% and the Conservative’s 5.48%. This is especially striking, because these same voters backed Parker overwhelmingly in his primary just two months before.

Anyone who wants to attribute this to Parker’s legal troubles must deal not only with the fact that Parker won his primary here big, but also the fact that the District’s other predominately White AD, the cosmopolitan 44th, gave Parker an overwhelming general election victory.

Then there is Carl Kruger’s race. Kruger’s only opponent was a Conservative. While in the 45th, Kruger beat him by a pretty handy 70.55% to 29.41% (still lower than his district wide average), he won his portion of the 48th by only 59.37% to 40.60% , and lost his Ultra-Orthodox dominated portion of the 49th by 55.78% to 44.22%.

We turn now to Congress.

Ed Towns lost his portion of the 45th with 36.61% to 57.92% for a Republican candidate who was little more than a placeholder (a Conservative took 5.46%), even though these same voters had helped Towns pound Kevin Powell just two months before.

Similarly, Yvette Clarke lost the 45th to a placeholder Republican by a vote of 38.50% to 61.04%. In the 48th, Clarke took 32.30% to the Republican’s 67.30%.

But, you might say, those were black candidates. Surely, popular Jewish incumbents did better.

But it was not really so.

In Jerry Nadler’s race, the Republican, Susan Kone, was slightly better than a placeholder, but not that much more. Yet Nadler lost his predominately Sephardic portion of the 45th 44.65% to 55.30%. And, in the 48th, which for nearly two decades Nadler has catered to like a proud papa does with a spoiled child, Yeshiva-boy Nadler was beaten 39.42% to 60.56%.

Whatever ever happened to hakoras ha tov?

In Anthony Weiner’s race, his opponent, Robert Turner, actually ran a race, which was largely ignored by the press. Turner took 39.14%. Now, I am not going to claim that Turner got all those votes from Orthodox Jews; he clearly targeted conservative White Christian areas and rampaged through communities like Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.

But Turner targeted the Orthodox as well, and it worked.

In the 48th, Turner beat Weiner 50.90% to 49.10% and in the 45th, he won 50.15% to 49.81%.

This is jaw dropping.

Weiner is a Citywide figure who these voters once backed for Mayor. Unlike Nadler, who is at the right end of left Zionism, Weiner’s buff card could accurately read “Likud.” If there was ever a member of Congress to have taken the necessary steps to insulate himself from an Orthodox revolt, it was Tony Weiner.

But, it is more than that.

Not only has Weiner represented most of these voters in Congress for nearly a decade and a half, but these voters largely track the original district that elected Anthony Weiner to the New York City Council in 1991.

In other words, Anthony Weiner was this year rejected by the voters who know him the best and for the longest.

That is a pretty profound message…

…The real lesson is clear. This year, being a Democrat running among Orthodox Jews was an obstacle to be overcome. The once sacred Orthodox pattern of holding down-ballot Democrats harmless for perceived transgressions at the top of their ticket has finally come to an end. This year, the default vote was Republican, and it was the GOP who was held harmless down-ballot for transgressions at the top of their ticket.

Further, these trends have been building over time . In 2008, 45th AD voters given a choice of voting for Steve Cymbrowitz on the Democrat, WFP or GOP lines, gave him 47.18% as a Republican. The same year, 48th AD voters, given a choice of voting for Dov Hikind as a Democrat or Republican, gave him 52.44% on the Republican line (with another 5.68% of the vote going to the Conservative).

Am I saying Orthodox voters are permanently lost to the Republicans?

Not yet. Factors like the GOP running a boob for Governor do have an impact and can help the Dems.

What I am saying is that Orthodox Jews hate Barack Obama and the Republican are poised to take advantage of it down ballot in a big way.

Now seem to be a good time for an update, but I must caveat at the outset. This article is based upon what is on the web, which is Assembly District by Assembly District results in each race. This is an imperfect form of analysis, and better and more thorough conclusions could be drawn from an Election District by Election district review of each race, which would also allow the scope of the article to be broadened. I eagerly await a more thorough review by someone using such a method of analysis, but, with the exception of Orthodox Pundit and Hasidic Politics, who will undoubtedly gives us a thorough review of what’s what in Williamsburg, I would not hold my breath waiting for anything of that nature to be posted on the web anytime soon.  

So have Brooklyn and other NYS Democrats assimilated the lessons that they can no longer take Orthodox and Russian votes for granted in down ballot races?

In looking at the results of this year’s elections, the answer would seem to be yes. Democrats no longer take Orthodox Jews and Russians for granted in down ballot race. And, sometimes, the fact that they no longer do so even helps them win such areas.

Sometimes. .  

In looking at the relevant races, we are disadvantaged in reviewing some of the results by the lack of real data.

Thanks to the efforts of the Tischler brothers, we were deprived of the opportunity to see the ultimate in gut votes---the chance to see how Borough Park, given the chance to choose between Dov Hikind on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative lines would distribute its votes. However, thanks to the Tischlers, Hikind was unable to run as either a Republican or Conservative, and his only opposition was a nuisance candidate. Thus, the results in that race are useless in this analysis. . 

Further, though DINO Simcha Felder was vigorously contested in the Super-Jewish Senate District by Republican David Storobin, his support from the State Senate’s GOP leadership was an open not-so-secret. And further, Felder, a socially conservative Orthodox Jew backed by the Orthodox establishment against a Russian who’d been caught pretending to be Orthodox, was a strong bet to transcend any problems usually encountered by Democrats. Thus, the results of that race are also useless in this study.     

But some races do paint a picture.

First, let’s make it clear that Barack Obama is still hated among the Ultra-Orthodox. In 2008, in the 48th AD, Obama received 7,649 votes (28.61%) to McCain’s 18,924 (70.78%), with 163 votes going to others.

Since then, the 48th has been redrawn, eliminating its significant white Christian area, as well as small areas containing Asians and Latinos. The new 48th is about as solid a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) district as could be drawn anywhere in NYC. In the new 48th, Obama received 6319 votes (23.64%) to Romney’s 20,207 votes (75.61%), with 139 going to others.

This figure is more significant because New York is not a swing state, so neither campaign spent any money to achieve it; it is a pure gut response. And apparently Ultra-Orthodox Jews hate the President’s guts.

 Turning to the 45th, in 2008, Obama received 10,751 (37.03%) votes to John McCain’s 18,063 (62.22%), with 216 going to others.

Since then, the 45th has been redrawn in an effort to protect incumbent Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz. Russians are still the largest group, but their numbers have dropped somewhat. Further, the Eastern European Orthodox Jews (many Haredi) at the district’s northern end have been cut significantly. Some have been replaced by Middle Eastern Sephardic Jews, who are mostly Orthodox, almost as socially conservative as their European brethren (and more so than the Russians) and possibly even more economically conservative, but who are nonetheless loyal to Cymbrowitz, whose late wife/predecessor was an Egyptian Jew. Also replacing them, and making the district somewhat less conservative (though possibly not on social issues) are a significant number of Asians and the mostly black and Latino residents of Marlborough Houses.

Thus, the fact that Obama got 9,824 votes (39.50%) to Romney’s 14,788 (59.45%) with 261 going for others is no real indication of any improvement of Obama’s performance in the Russian community. In fact, another reason why Obama’s numbers improved is that Hurricane Sandy resulted in the evacuation of areas in the district where the Russian population was the heaviest, surely diminishing that community’s vote. 

Further, the two Countywide Republican/Conservative candidates for Civil Court, who did not campaign or spend any money, won both the 45th and the 48th, once again indicating a gut level comfort with Republicans in these areas in the absence of any other information.

In other words, voting for Republicans is the default vote.  

Some of the results for State Senate and Congress also indicate these trends are continuing.

In the 45th AD’s mostly Sephardic portion of the 22nd Senate District, Marty Golden beat Andrew Gounardes by an eye-popping 5,585 (73.88%) to 1,964 (25.98%) with 11 votes going to others.  

 In the 45th AD’s mostly Russian portion of the 8th Congressional District, hapless Republican Alan Bellone, who actually showed up at debates, but ran behind the Green Party candidate in three ADs (50, 56, 57) beat Star of the Future Hakeem Jeffries 2051 (51.98%) to 1840, (46.63%)  with 25 votes going to others. This is especially impressive since a virtually identical area of the 45th (the Congressional primary was held using the old AD lines) gave Jeffries a resounding 96% to 4% victory in the Democratic primary. This in spite of Jeffries sounded like a Likudnik when talking about Israel.

 But apparently none of that mattered.

Yvette Clarke, whose pro-Israel bona fides are suspect even to liberal Zionists, was opposed by a placeholder named Daniel Cavanagh, who did not make any of the efforts made by Bellone. But the placeholder beat Clarke in the district’s Russian and Orthodox portion of the 45th 2090 (49.64%) to 2017 (7.91%), with 193 votes going to others. Further, Cavanagh won the district’s extremely Orthodox portions of the 48th 2082 (50.33%) to 1996 (48.26%), with 58 votes going to others. (Clarke also lost her portion of the 59th, which included the Irish shantytown known as Gerritsen Beach and a sliver of the mixed Irish and Orthodox Jewish area of Marine Park).   

It must be said that the results in the ADs were close, mostly by virtue of the institutional establishment making it clear that they preferred to have the community support someone who would win anyway. Nonetheless, despite the fact that there was no countervailing effort on Cavanagh’s part, he still managed to beat Clarke in both ADs

In the 45th AD’s  portion of the 11th CD, a mixed Sephardic and Russian area, also including some East European Orthodox, a significant number of Asians and Marlborough Houses, Republican Michael Grimm beat Democrat Mark Murphy 6067 (54.81%) to 4865 (43.95%,) with 137 votes going to others. 

Unlike 2010, or the special elections in the intervening years, there were some bright spots for the Democrats, which show that, under the right circumstances, Orthodox Jews will support a Democrat.

Take Steve Cymbrowitz. In addition to the aforementioned favorable reapportionment, his own socially conservative voting record, and a deep relationship with one particular Orthodox constituency, he benefitted  from the GOP choosing the worst possible candidate, Russ Gallo, who was neither Russian or Sephardic, and seemingly lacked a clue about either community. Then Cymbrowitz’s Russian and Orthodox primary opponent, Ben Akselrod, won the Independence Party Primary, which foiled Gallo’s opportunity to turn Russian resentment against Cymbrowitz to his own advantage. Then Gallo compounded his own problem by challenging Akselrod’s victory in court, transforming himself rather than Cymbrowitz into the major focus of Russian resentment. Then came Hurricane Sandy and its disproportionate impact upon Russian areas.

For Cymbrowitz, it was almost literally the perfect storm.

In the end, Cymbrowitz, got 11,859 votes (55.01%), Gallo 5517 (25.59%) and Akselrod 4,151.(19.25%), with 26 votes scattered.

But perhaps most significant was the result for Allan Feinblum, a retired 73 year old running a write in campaign as a traditional liberal Democrat of the type (with names like Schumer and Solarz) which proudly represented the district for decades before demographic changes set in.  

Feinblum got six votes, which pretty well sums up the selling power of traditional Democratic liberalism among these constituencies. The lesson is that the best route to Democratic victory here is to appeal to Russians, and that the best alternative to that is to appeal to Sephardim.

And that a bit of luck don’t hurt either.

Is there a path in these districts for victory by a liberal Democrat?

Well, the idea of being a Russian liberal Democrat has never really been tried—Alec Brook Krasny sort of qualifies, but his 46th AD includes significant numbers of Coney Island blacks and  Latinos, and Bay Ridge Yuppies, so he doesn’t really count for these purposes.

For genuinely liberal non-Russian Democrats, there seems to be only one tested formula for victory in these districts

That formula is to (1) be the prohibitive frontrunner, and (2) do EVERYTHING  you can to win over the community leadership.   

The reaction caused by the low vote totals in Orthodox and Russian area for sure winner Democrats has not gone unnoticed. Further, there is vast resentment over the Weprin/Turner and Fidler/Storobin races. In response, a concerted effort is being made to not piss off folks who will be there anyway, which accounts for such things as Yvette Clarke’s much improved (albeit losing) 2012 performance in such areas.

Thus, in 2010, Jerry Nadler, a yeshiva graduate who for nearly two decades had catered to his Orthodox constituents like a proud papa does with a spoiled child, was beaten in his Haredi dominated part of the 48th 39.42% to 60.56%.

I know this stuck in Nadler’s craw, and that he would not let it rest. So, even with Barack Obama being beaten by better than three to one, and the Democratic candidates for judge losing, Nadler, despite his liberalism, won the 48th 10,375 (61.03%) to Republican Michael Chan’s 6597 (38.81%) , with 27 votes going to others (Having a Chinese opponent probably didn’t hurt either).

In the district’s small Orthodox, but somewhat less Haredi portion of the 45th, Nadler beat Chan 245 (52.69%) to 219 (47.01%).

Similarly, in 2010, Kirsten Gillibrand managed 47.96% in the 45th AD and 40.09% in the 48th, but diligent service and lame opposition (Bob Turner would have been far, far stronger here) yielded Gillibrand a 12,9246 (58.77%) to 8,753 (39.73%) victory over Wendy Long, with 330 votes going to others.

In the 48th, where Gilly had gotten 40.09% in 2010, she managed an 11,536 (51.42%) to 10,663 (47.53%) victory, with 234 votes going to others.

The difference?

Diligent service on the part of Gillibrand and a return to pragmatism on the part of the Rabbis.

 This year’s message?

The once sacred Orthodox pattern of holding down-ballot Democrats harmless for perceived transgressions at the top of their ticket has not been re-established.

Being a Democrat running among Orthodox Jews and Russians is still an obstacle to be overcome..The default position is still Republican.

But if one gives Orthodox Jews and Russians a good reason to support them, and the circumstances are otherwise right, they will do so, though most times, only when it will not make a difference, or when the stars are aligned just right.